FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

This might have happened many years ago, except that politics always got in the way of rationality.

Thirty years ago, the MMDA proposed a single ticketing system for traffic violations in all the constituent cities of the National Capital Region. Modern communications technologies had made that possible. This was a no-brainer.

The proposal was opposed by the various metro councils, often for reasons of political vanity. Every city has its own schedule for fines. Drivers’ licenses were confiscated and can only be redeemed in the city halls with jurisdiction over where the traffic violations happened.

This presented motorists with the dire prospect of wasting a whole working day traveling to another municipality to settle largely token fines and retrieve licenses. But it was profitable for traffic enforcers mulcting from errant motorists. It was more efficient to slip a bribe than go through the time-consuming process of retrieving drivers’ licenses and possibly attending useless traffic seminars.

In the few times I have been apprehended for some traffic infraction, this was in fact the sales pitch of enforcers. They looked at the address in my license card and reminded me of the great trouble required it get it back from halfway across the congested metropolis. That was the signal to hand over a bribe.

Once, I spent over an hour waiting for a parking slot to be freed so that I could pay a P200 fine at the MMDA central office. The fine was small compared to the time and fuel wasted getting there. No wonder many drivers find it economical to hold multiple drivers’ licenses.

Too, the fines varied from one local government to the other. The last time, I wasted half a day to go to the Mandaluyong city hall to pay P2,000 for lighting a cigarette with my car windows open. The clerk appeared surprised I was settling a violation ticket even if my license was not confiscated.

Settling fines and retrieving my driver’s license became an excuse to visit Metro Manila’s city halls. I could write a small essay comparing the efficiency of the various local governments, the cleanliness of their offices and the distinct street food available in each place. I am sure, however, that most other motorists decided to slip the traffic enforcer P500 rather than go through this merry tour.

At the start of this month, the world changed. A new traffic regime will be inaugurated for the harried motorists of this urban tangle of 17 cities.

At the insistence of the MMDA, all the mayors of the constituent cities of Metro Manila agreed to a single-ticketing system for traffic violations. The various city councils will pass their respective resolutions by March 15. After that day, the Metro Manila Traffic Code of 2023 comes into play.

On March 16, drivers’ licenses will no longer be confiscated. A standardized schedule of fines and penalties will be enforced across municipal borders. These fines and penalties may be settled online. All violations will be registered in a database shared with the LTO and LTFRB, ensuring the fines are paid. That database should also be useful in computing graduated insurance premiums for well-behaved drivers.

Our traffic management will finally be entering the age of information technology. According to Ron Artes, acting MMDA chairman, his agency will shoulder the IT costs related to this transition. Included in this effort is the rollout of the LTO’s Land Transportation Management System. This is a sweetener for the city councils to join in this proactive effort to modernize our traffic management.

This will please motorists. Fines and penalties may be settled online, making things for convenient for everyone.

The integrated traffic information system will provide a reliable framework for the enforcement of the no-contact apprehension policy (NCAP). This policy is currently on hold because of a petition filed against it at the Supreme Court. But progress can only be delayed so much.

We’re moving closer to using artificial intelligence to manage what once seemed to be a congested traffic system doomed to perpetual chaos. The forward-looking bright boys at the MMDA have been working on this for years. Introducing the IT system to make this possible comes in stages. It is welcome news that the Metro Manila mayors have bought into the program for modernizing our street management.

All these bring sad tidings only to enforcers who benefit from bribes in an inefficient traffic management situation. Opinion surveys show majority of our citizens support the no-contact apprehension policy for the traffic discipline the system introduced before a restraining order stopped it.

We used to think much of the solution to the metro’s traffic woes lay in building more road space. That is still true. But there is much to be gained as well from introducing information technology into the equation.

If we shop online, it should be eminently more convenient to settle our fines and penalties online. We have long appreciated the value of closed-circuit video coverage of our streets to deter crime and solve those that happened. An IT-based traffic system for the metropolis will bring far more benefits than we can imagine at this point.

The constituent cities of Metro Manila may have residual impulses to conserve their old feudal privileges. More and more, however, it becomes clearer that this sprawling urban jungle must be increasingly managed as one entity.

Or else parochialism will doom all of us to an unlivable urban sprawl.


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